Madison County Board Rejects Appointees In Bipartisan ‘Pushback’ Against Prenzler
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
A trio of nominations to the Madison County Board received a bipartisan rejection in what one Republican board member is calling a “pushback” against County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s leadership of the board.
The county board voted overwhelmingly this week to reject the chairman’s appointments to vacant seats left by three members who resigned in November and December.
Republican board member Mick Madison said the rejections are a response to continuous attempts by Prenzler to “go around” the county board with appointments and last-minute votes. He said the board didn’t have a chance to review or interview the nominated appointees and that its recommendations were not taken into consideration.
“He decided that he was going to make his own picks and didn’t take any recommendations,” Madison said of Prenzler, who also is a Republican. “I think he wants his own people in there to vote for certain things.”
Madison cited a similar attempt at a special meeting of the board on Tuesday where Prenzler proposed a referendum for the April 6 municipal election that would reduce the size of the board. The proposal was made on the final day that a referendum could be added to the ballot and with little prior notice to the board members.
“This is pushback. (Wednesday’s vote) was a culmination of those things, we’ve had enough of this and we’re not taking it anymore,” he said. “Board members keep asking for more information and more time for considerations before he brings things up.”
Prenzler on Thursday said he disagreed with Madison’s and other board members’ criticisms, noting that he presented the appointees 48 hours before the meeting to satisfy the Open Meetings Act after a “thorough” interviewing process.
“I’m a very available person and I communicate all the time,” he said.” There’s always an opportunity to communicate better but I certainly always try to be responsive.”
“They had the opportunity to talk to these folks,” Prenzler added. “They had an opportunity to review each of them.”
Board rejects nominees
Prenzler nominated Valarie Doucleff of Godfrey to District 6, Larry Meisenheimer of Bethalto to District 14 and Dana Brockman of Wood River to District 15. Doucleff is a longtime teacher in the Alton School District, Meisenheimer is a Vietnam veteran and retiree from Bethalto, and Brockman is a lifetime resident of Wood River who works at the Wood River Refinery.
Doucleff’s appointment failed 7-17, Brockman’s 1-23 and Meisenheimer was unanimously rejected by the board.
The three nominees would have replaced Tom McRae, who represented the 14th District, Ray Wesley, who represented the 6th district; and Chrissy Dutton-Wiley who represented the 15th District. All three former board members are Republicans.
McRae stepped down from the board after being elected county circuit clerk. Wesley resigned to serve as McRae’s deputy circuit clerk. Both resigned in late November.
Dutton-Wiley resigned in mid-December after moving out of the district and into McRae’s district. McRae recommended Dutton-Wiley fill his vacant seat, but she was not considered as a replacement.
Dutton-Wiley served as District 15’s board member for four years and had two years left on her term when she resigned. She said Thursday she hopes she ends up being appointed to the position but plans to run in District 14 if that doesn’t happen.
“I am hopeful that he will see the support I have received and give me the opportunity to get back to work on the board,” she said. “He [Prenzler] put his trust in me when he named me chairperson of the Health Department Committee in December before I resigned, so I hope I get the chance to serve in that role again as well.”
She added that she’s received support from both sides of the aisle on a possible appointment to serve as District 14’s board member.
“I’ve made an effort over the years to build bipartisan relationships while on the board and I think that shows when both sides are saying I’m the right person to take the vacancy in District 14,” she said. “Mr. McRae was elected there four times by overwhelming margins and now he is choosing me to finish out his term. Obviously, the taxpayers trust his judgment.”
When county board members resign, the county board chair by law must make appointments within 60 days of the resignation. That deadline gives Madison County just eight days to make appointments to replace Wesley and McRae.
According to state law, the appointee must be a member of the same political party and the county board chair must have the “advice and consent” of the county board to make the appointments.
Board wants input on appointments
Madison wasn’t alone in his criticisms of Prenzler’s appointments.
Republicans Chris Guy and Democrat Michael “Doc” Holliday, Sr. also argued against approving the nominations due to the lack of board inclusion in selecting candidates.
Holliday urged Prenzler to take into account the wishes of departing board members who had been elected to the seats that were to be filled.
“Normally a county board member who is leaving usually has a great say on who is replacing them,” Holliday said. “I would, in the future, take that into effect, what the recommendation of the county board member is.”
Guy mirrored Madison’s critiques on the timing of the nominations, adding he hadn’t had any communication with Prenzler’s nominees or time to review their background.
“My no vote isn’t against anyone in particular. I have not heard from any of the nominees tonight,” Guy said. “I have not received a phone call, an email. a text from anyone who is nominated to be appointed to these seats.”
On Wednesday, Prenzler said his administration would be heading back to the drawing board on nominees and schedule further interviews with possible appointees.
Madison said the board’s rejection of the appointments wasn’t an affront against the nominees, but an attempt to better serve their constituencies. He said without proper vetting, the board can’t vote in good confidence on appointees.
“I want people to realize that we’re not trying to stand up against them, we’re trying to work for them and do the things they want the right way,” he said.
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.